Brexit Bites: Harrassment & business policies – are your’s in shape?

July 27, 2016

Britain’s new home secretary, Amber Rudd, yesterday announced plans to launch a multi-million pound campaign to tackle rising hate crimes in the wake of Brexit. 

According to the latest statistics from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), the UK has seen a 20 percent increase in hate crime between mid-June and mid-July this year compared to the same period last year. What about in your business – how are you handling tensions post-Brexit? HR Manager, Tim Frear, comments on how we could be tackling discrimination in the workplace.

I recently attended a really interesting conference with Lupton Fawcett Denison Till on the hot topic of Brexit. Brian Harrington, a Director from Lupton’s in York, put a really insightful and interesting spin on what we should really consider in regards our employees and our businesses. Europe Day

Putting aside employment law and what the government is doing at the moment, let’s look at the immediate impacts on our businesses.

Since the referendum there has been a 400% rise in recorded hate crimes. With derogatory comments on the high street reported in the media, like the Manchester Tram incident where someone was told to ‘go back to Africa’, this all has an impact on individuals – and they may well be your employees.

How about in your workplace? There are many ways to address the current trend in discrimination within your business. One process is to ensure your equal opportunities policies are up to date and are being followed, making sure that any instances of discrimination are being dealt with as quickly and fairly as possible.

Another and more effective way is to look proactively at your policies, educate and inform employees of their rights and responsibilities as valued employees, live, breath and be ambassadors of the policies.

AGA sets the best practice with this.

They send a letter to all staff informing them of the increase of hate crimes inviting anyone who has been subject to this to come forward, all the time relating this issue to their equal opportunities policy. AGA have set very clear expectations for their employees by explaining exactly what will happen with any breach of policy.

If you do find yourself with a discrimination claim brought against your company, you will need to provide evidence that you have up to date, correct and relevant policies in place. If you have trained and coached your teams on these, including diversity policies and the need to not discriminate in the workplace, you are more likely to have a strong case to claim ‘Statutory Defence’. However, being reactive by only dealing with issues as they arise means that you will not be able to claim this defence.


As a newly qualified paralegal in employment law, it was interesting for me to look at the laws pertaining to the claim of statutory defence. In the case of Fox v Ocean City Recruitment Limited (UKEAT/0035/11/JOJ) Fox made a claim of sexual discrimination, the case was investigated and the company followed their policy, the Employment Tribunal stated they were not entitled to claim statutory defence as Ocean City Recruitment Limited had not taken reasonable steps to prevent discriminatory conduct by employees.


In the case of Caspersz v Ministry of Defence (UKEAT/0599/05/LA) the MOD were able to present information to the court that they had taken the ‘reasonable practicable steps’ defence by proactively training their employees on its dignity at work policy to avoid an employee being sexually harassed by another. By doing this they were able to produce evidence to show they took implementation seriously and were successful in claiming Statutory defence.


This being said, going back to the AGA best practice, we as HR Professionals need to evaluate our workforce, the level of transparency of our policies and the training we have delivered to our employees especially now when we are seeing a massive increase in hate crimes.

We always look internally at our employees and how they interact with each other, however what happens when our customers, suppliers and contractors are making harassing or bullying comments to our employees? We have to remember ‘Vicarious Liability’ applies to us as employers, in that we have a duty to protect our employees against third party actions.

ACAS defines vicarious liability as ‘a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person.’ To prevent acts or omissions from occurring we advise clients to make sure policies are up to date and relevant to the business and to the current political climate (equal opportunities policy). You need to ensure you are providing appropriate and thorough training to staff on discrimination and their roles and responsibilities.  There also needs to be a commitment by management and leadership to combating discriminatory practices in the workplace from all sources – both internal and external. The courts would look at the customs and practices of an employer and how their culture and management of situations.

As politics is an electric topic at the moment it is prudent to refresh certain basics including terminations. So if your principle reason to terminate someone for their political opinions, they have an automatic right to claim unfair dismissal, protection is from day one and there is no qualifying two-year period.

When the UK takes control of its employment laws it is unlikely to change them immediately as there are hotter topics on the agenda which would be addressed first. One thing that is likely to happen is that cases which are heard through the European Court of Justice will not necessarily be used to shape our legislation.

As employment law goes, the UK is one of the world leaders in employment law, most of our policies are the ‘gold standard’ and are well above that required standard set by the European Union – this includes Maternity leave, shared parental leave, race discrimination, unfair dismissal and the UK Living wage. There are only a few employment laws embedded into our culture which were enforced by the EU which in due course may change under UK governance –  these include TUPE, Holiday Pay and the Working Time Directive.

We develop strategies for businesses in partnership with our clients. For a chat through your issues, including how your business can plan for Brexit or enhance your policies, please get in touch. Call 0113 287 8150.

Leeds based HR180 is a team of superheroes in HR Outsourcing, Projects and Consultancy committed to work in partnership with organisations of all sizes to establish working policies to go above and beyond Employment Law requirements, to protect both employees and employers alike. We love to hear from you, so call us on 0113 287 8150 or hit the Rescue Me button.

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